ST. LOUIS — As they (appropriately) walked off the field in sudden defeat for the second straight afternoon following the 5-4 loss, the Rays were not quite the feel-good story they had been.
First place in the American League East, where they'd been the past six days, was no longer theirs. They self-destructed again, following Saturday's display of sloppy baserunning with an afternoon of wild pitching, featuring a season-high 10 walks by their pitchers — all from the fifth inning on. And they're headed next to Oakland, where they've had more problems than anywhere else.
But as they left Busch Stadium, they spoke confidently, or at least hopefully, that the lost weekend was not the beginning of the end.
"I don't think this club is going to linger too long on that," reliever Trever Miller said. "We can't do that if we're going to continue to be in first place. We have to move on and go right into Oakland and start playing the way we've been playing. That will show some character. And if we do do that, it should give us a little more confidence down the road."
The Rays (25-19) hadn't lost back-to-back games since being swept in Boston two weeks ago. They rebounded from that by winning two of three in Toronto and nine of 11 overall, and manager Joe Maddon said in retrospect the beating was beneficial because the Rays showed a lot in how they responded.
Losing the way they did here, on a 10th-inning homer Saturday and a ninth-inning RBI double Sunday, puts them at a similarly critical juncture.
"You never know what's going to happen, but we just want to try to get back focused," leftfielder Carl Crawford said. "These two games we lost, we just played a team more similar like us. It just came down to the last inning, the last out. We've just got to get back to doing what we were doing and go to Oakland and try to win the series.
"We know we've got a good team, we know this team can bounce back the next day and come back and win a game. So it's like not we're getting worried and stuff like we're about to lose 10 games straight or something."
They might if they keep playing as they did the last two games.
Sunday, they led 3-0 in the sixth when things started to get wild. Edwin Jackson, who had extended his scoreless streak to 20 innings, started the fall by walking the first two of the sixth. Five relievers followed, and none was particularly effective.
Of the five Cardinals who scored, four reached on walks. The other was a homer by Ryan Ludwick, who hit Dan Wheeler's last pitch Saturday over the left-centerfield fence and his first one Sunday over the leftfield fence.
The Cardinals tied it with two runs in the eighth, which featured four walks (two to start, one intentional) and one hit. They won it in the ninth when backup catcher Jason LaRue drew a leadoff walk from Gary Glover, went to second on a one-out infield single and scored on Skip Schumaker's double over Crawford's head.
Is it just two bad losses? Or is it something more?
"I'm not concerned at all," Maddon said. "It just happens. What we saw the last two days just happens."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.